[Web4lib] Role of the OPAC (was: library automation vendors)

Ross Singer ross.singer at library.gatech.edu
Thu Jul 21 14:02:47 EDT 2005

13 years!

Sloan, Bernie wrote:

>Ross Singer's note gives me an opportunity to dust off a posting I sent
>to PACS-L a little more than 13 years ago, where I ask about a post-OPAC
>era. :-)
>The posting is reproduced below:
>Date:         Tue, 23 Jun 1992 08:46:01 CDT
>Reply-To:     Public-Access Computer Systems Forum
>Sender:       Public-Access Computer Systems Forum
>From:         Public-Access Computer Systems Forum
>Subject:      Post-OPAC Era
> From: Bernie Sloan
> Subject: The post-OPAC era
>I've been following the discussion of "third generation OPACs" with
>interest, and thought I might contribute my two-cents-worth.
>The idea probably isn't original or novel, but it struck me that perhaps
>we might want to start thinking in terms of a post-OPAC age. Many people
>have commented on the paradigm shift that will be put in motion by
>expanded and enhanced access to electronic information resources. I'm
>not sure that we can fully make that shift if we continue to think
>(whether consciously or subconsciously) of an information universe that
>revolves around the OPAC.
>I don't think that anyone would argue too strongly with the contention
>that OPACs started out as automated card catalogs. Granted, OPACs were a
>vast improvement over manual card catalogs, but they were still an
>extension of a manual system that was established to manage or control a
>library's in-house resources. OPACs (and their card catalog
>predecessors) were not designed to cope with the myriad of networked
>electronic resources that people are confronted with today. Should we
>try, for example, to force the electronic journal to fit into a format
>and way of thinking that were designed for the printed word?
>We all need to start thinking of OPACs as a PART of the solution, rather
>than as THE solution. More and more, information will be represented and
>presented in ways that were largely not considered when OPACs started to
>be developed. Does it really make sense to try to manage access to
>images, non-bibliographic data, etc., through the OPAC?
>There will always be OPACs (or their equivalents) to help people manage
>the flow of information. But efforts in the post-OPAC era should be
>aimed at developing gateways to information resources, of which the OPAC
>is only a part.
>One of the program titles at the upcoming ALA conference is "Images in
>the OPAC: a program on how image databases can be mounted as part of the
>online catalog". The description for another program notes that the
>program "will stimulate discussion regarding the nature of the catalog
>as it changes from a tool for finding local holdings to one that
>provides the patron a 'one stop information store'". It may be
>semi-iconoclastic, but should we be trying to retool the OPAC to play a
>broader role that might perhaps be better filled by developing gateway
>technologies (WAIS, Internet gopher, etc)?
>Bernie Sloan
>-----Original Message-----
>From: web4lib-bounces at webjunction.org
>[mailto:web4lib-bounces at webjunction.org] On Behalf Of Ross Singer
>Sent: Thursday, July 21, 2005 9:30 AM
>To: web4lib at webjunction.org
>Subject: [Web4lib] Role of the OPAC (was: library automation vendors)
>I think Jim Campbell and David Walker have raised an extremely good
>In the context of the modern library (and this includes all types of
>libraries), what /is/ the role of the OPAC?  What is its purpose?  Is
>there a reason it is segregated from other electronic resources?
>I'm very curious to hear from various corners of the profession on this
>one because, honestly, I have having an extremely hard time figuring out
>the utility of the catalog as a public interface.
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